Background: Protein-energy malnutrition remains an important underlying cause of death among preschool children in Pakistan. The present study aimed to estimate the prevalence of stunting and its correlates and to explore the role of sex bias in remote rural villages of south Pakistan.
Methods: We selected 1878 children less than 3 years of age through stratified random sampling from 64 villages having the number of children enrolled proportionate to the size of each village, in rural Sindh, Pakistan. Trained investigators completed child physical measurements and a maternal interview. The Z-scores for the distribution of height-for-age (stunting) and weight-for-height (wasting) were estimated relative to those of the National Center for Health Statistics/Center for Disease Control (NCHS/CDC) reference population.
Results: A total of 483 (26%) of the 1878 children were wasted, 977 (55%) were stunted and 259 (15%) were both wasted and stunted. Mothers who were illiterate were more likely to have children who were stunted (odds ratio (OR) = 1.27, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.11-1.61). Fathers who earn less than Rs. 1000 (US $20) per month (OR = 1.35, 95% CI 1.12-1.66) were more likely to have children who were stunted. Children living in an overcrowded house were more likely to be stunted (OR = 1.44, 95% CI 1.18-1.75). Male children compared to females were equally likely to be stunted (57 vs 55%, OR 1.03, 95% CI 0.86-1.25).
Conclusions: In this region of lower Sindh, stunting is more common than wasting. Female illiteracy, poor household income and overcrowding are important risk factors for stunting. The prevalent belief that in rural Pakistan, parents pay attention to feeding male children at the cost of female children is not proven by these data.